JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -- In a story Sept. 12 about Mississippi's spending of federal aid from Hurricane Katrina, The Associated Press reported erroneously that the state was spending more than half of its money on economic development activities. The state has budgeted 26 percent for economic development.
A corrected version of the story is below:
Miss. still to spend $872M in Katrina money
Mississippi still trying to spend $872 million in federal Hurricane Katrina recovery money
By JEFF AMY
Eight years after Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast, Mississippi still hasn't spent almost $1 billion in federal money dedicated to recovery from the storm.
The remaining $872 million is part of $5.5 billion Congress gave the state to rebound from Katrina, which struck in August 2005, killed 238 people in Mississippi and caused tens of billions of dollars in damage, most heavily in coastal counties.
More than half of the unspent money is tied up in a hotly debated plan to expand the state-owned Port of Gulfport, and millions more are allocated for projects that have yet to materialize.
Critics also complain that some projects are far from the Katrina strike zone and don't seem to have a direct connection to recovery from the hurricane, while others have failed to take root or are not meeting promises of creating jobs.
One of the projects -- a parking garage in Starkville near the Mississippi State University football stadium -- is more than 200 miles from Katrina's landfall.
Ashley Edwards, director of the state's Office of Recovery, said the pace of spending has been partly due to difficulty satisfying federal requirements. Some funding wasn't released to the state until recently, Edwards said, but state officials said they plan to complete most work within the next two years.
The money from the Department of Housing and Urban Development must be directed toward projects that meet certain criteria. For example, companies or government entities getting economic development money must agree to create certain numbers of jobs, with at least half of them to be offered to low or moderate-income people.
But Reilly Morse, a lawyer for the Mississippi Center for Justice who has fought the state's spending priorities, questioned why Mississippi hasn't been able to find uses for all of the money.
"For a state that's got economic development challenges, a state that's got a difficult unemployment rate, it's surprising," he said.
The decision to allot 26 percent of the HUD money to job-creation was made by former Gov. Haley Barbour, who was in office when Katrina struck. The state could reallocate money with HUD's approval, but has resisted changes.
Neighboring Louisiana budgeted less than 3 percent of its money for economic development, spending almost all of it on housing and infrastructure.
As of March 31, Louisiana had spent about 91 percent of the $10.5 billion it received under the program, according to reports it submitted to HUD.
Morse had campaigned to have more of the money diverted to help Mississippians repair houses. Under national criticism, Mississippi shifted about $164 million into a home repair program that's still ongoing.
One of the most contentious projects funded with the money has been the plan to expand the port of Gulfport.
As the project dragged and job creation lagged, current Gov. Phil Bryant called for a re-evaluation of port plans in 2012. Raising the port's elevation to 25 feet to thwart storm surge was scrapped, and the port lowered its cargo target from 3 million containers a year to 1 million containers. Longtime port director Don Allee resigned.
The cost of the project -- $581 million with $463 million still to be spent -- is still attracting criticism. The port currently averages about 200,000 containers a year, and Gulfport City Councilman Rusty Walker questions Bryant's goal of expanding capacity to 1 million a year. He doubts that current tenants, such as fruit importers Dole Food Co. and Chiquita Brands International Inc., are going to increase the amount of cargo they move through Gulfport, arguing the port could already handle more traffic than it gets today.
"If they could sell an extra bunch of bananas, do you believe they wouldn't be doing that now?" Walker said.
Walker wants money shifted from the port to such efforts as repairing storm-damaged sewers.
"It's time to take the money back," Walker said.
Port Executive Director Jonathan Daniels, though, said the port needs all the money to meet its goal of creating 1,200 jobs.
"If we don't complete the project, then essentially we're sitting here with a big field and very little ability to expand," he said. "The best way for us not to reach our job goals would be to remove the money."